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CHAPTER 2

Margrits heartbeats counted out an eternity, incomprehension making a statue of her as if she, too, was one of the gargoyles, frozen in time. Then the need to act paralyzed her, useless choices rendering her as still as astonishment had.

Her impulse was to dart forward, to claw the chains away from Albans throat just as hed tried to do. To pound on his chest and demand he wake up, for all that she knew sunlight held him captive and only darkness would release him from stone. Failing that, she wanted to somehow scoop him up and carry him to safety, far away from Biali and his plots. All were physically impossible, laughable in their naivet'e. Even if she could somehow remove him from the rooftops, Margrit wasnt certain she could loosen the chains that bound him.

Memory surged with the thought, twisted and half-shadowed and not her own. The half-breed Ausras memories of Hajnal, her mother, bound by iron, pain driving her mad. Iron became part of stone when transformation took a gargoyle at dawn or dusk, and could only be released by the one whod set the chains in place. Hajnal had never been free again, and her death had poured memories into Ausras unprotected infant mind. It was more agony than Margrit had ever wanted to know.

She shuddered, pushing the alien memories away. What little she knew about enslaved gargoyles had suggested manacles, not iron chain wound around a stony neck. Maybe, if she could get Alban away from Biali, she might free him by simply unwinding the chains.

It would have been an elegant solution, had it not relied on moving a seven-foot-tall statue off a twentieth-story rooftop. Margrit had no idea how much he weighed in stone form; easily a ton or two. She flattened her hands against her hips, searching for a cell phone she should have been carrying and wasnt. Cole and Cameron would rail at her for that, if she admitted it to them. Even if she had the phoneand she should; running in the park at night was dangerous enough without at least carrying some form of communicationthere was no one to call. The only obvious answer was her soon-to-be employer, and the prospect of offering Alban, frozen in stone and chains, to Eliseo Daisani, sent a cold shudder through her.

The door behind her banged open and Margrit swallowed a yelp of surprise as she turned to face an irate man, whose ring of keys suggested he was the building manager. What the hell is goinWhat the hell are those? His attention snapped back and forth between the gargoyles and Margrit so swiftly it looked headache inducing.

She offered a lame smile. Somebodys sculpture project?

Somebody like you? The man was big enough to be physically threatening, but he kept his distance, as though the gargoyles behind Margrit might come to life and protect her. She wanted to assure him, blithely, that he was safe until nightfall, but instead swallowed a hysterical laugh and shook her head.

I came up to see what all the noise was.

The building manager squinted. From where? Youre not a tenant.

Margrit couldnt imagine how Biali had managed to choose a building where the building manager knew his tenants, but she had the urge to turn around and scold him for it. Im visiting. I got up early to go for a run and heard the noise. My friend called you.

The managers eyebrows unbeetled a little. She didnt mention a guest. Course, she usually doesnt. How were you planning on getting back downstairs? He jangled his keys, still looking sour, but no longer as if he suspected Margrit was to blame for the gargoyles.

She clapped her hands over her mouth, eyes wide with dismay. Oh, God, I didnt even think of that. Wow, Im such an idiot. Thank goodness you came up here or Id be stuck all day. Thank you! You totally saved my life! She felt her IQ dropping with the breathless exclamations, but the manager looked increasingly less dour.

You should think things through more carefully. Chiding done, he looked beyond her at the gargoyles and sighed explosively. Well, shit. Im going to have to get demolition guys in here to get rid of those things.

Horror clenched a fist around Margrits heart. But theyre so cool. I bet you could make a buck or two letting people up here to see them for a while before you got rid of them. Besides, somebody in the building mustve done them, right? I mean, unless helicopters swept through in the middle of the night and dropped them off.

The manager twisted his mouth. Or they flew here.

Margrit laughed, high thin sound of nerves. Yeah, which would be totally freaky. A law-school education, she thought with despair, and she was relegated to totally freaky. So if somebody got them up here, he must have a way to get them back out, right?

Do you know how many tenants Ive got? I dont want to knock on every door asking who the damned fool who put a couple monsters on the roof is.

Margrit bounced on her toes, putting on her best helpful smile. Look, I could do it for you. Ill wait a little while to be sure people are getting up so I dont disturb them, and youve got to have a million things to do in a building this size, and I dont mind lending a hand. Makes me feel useful as a visitor, you know? Im Maggie, by the way. She stepped forward to offer a hand, wincing at the nickname she never used. Margrit had a plethora of short names, and she used one no one else did: Grit. But Maggie was close enough to her name that shed remember to respond to it, and since she was on the roof under false pretenses, it seemed wiser not to offer her real name.

The building manager shook her hand automatically. Hank. Youre not Rositas usual type, Maggie.

Margrit knotted her fingers in front of her stomach, hoping she looked winsome instead of nervous. She hadnt known she was potentially Rositas type when shed pinned her presence on a friend, but she was unexpectedly interested in the answer to, Better or worse?

Better. Shes usually intoWell, look, it doesnt matter. You seem like a nice girl, and I could use the help. Jesus, what kind of idiots

Ill totally take care of it, Margrit promised. Just dont call any demolition guys until Ive talked to everybody, okay? Theyre too cool to smash up. Somebodyll want them.

Yeah, all right. Come on. Hank turned away, opening the door. Margrits shoulders slumped with relief before she put Maggies perky smile back on and followed him into the building.

The other timethe only other timeshe had visited Eliseo Daisanis penthouse home had been an impetuous 4:00 a.m. arrival on the rooftop a few weeks earlier. Now, arms hugged around herself, Margrit stared hundreds of feet into the air at Daisanis mirror-glassed apex apartment, wishing she could enter the way she had then.

Wished it for a host of reasons, not the least of which was that Alban had carried her in his arms then, ignoring human convention and soaring across the sky in his haste to make certain of Margrits safety. Malik had teased Alban with the threat to move against her during the day, when Alban was helpless to protect her.

Alban had turned to Daisani for help. That in itself might be reason enough for Margrit to do the same now, but standing outside his building in the small hours of the morning, she doubted herself.

Not so small anymore. Margrit shook herself. It was nearly seven, and Daisani would be on his way to work. Alban and Biali had to be rescued before she went to work; before Hank decided to take a sledgehammer to the statues on his rooftop. Daisani might not be a good choice, but he was the only one she had. Janx, even if she could get to him, no longer had the resources necessary to rescue a pair of wayward gargoyles.

She remembered too clearly that the first time shed met Eliseo Daisani, hed had two sealskins pinned to his office wall. One had been adult-sized, the other pup-sized. Shed thought then that he was a ruthless hunter, willing to take mother and child. It had proven that the furs were selkie skins, their presence in his office trapping a young woman and her daughter in their human forms. That hed given them to Margrit as part of a bargain did nothing to reassure her: the fact that hed had them at all said he was more than happy to take advantage of any powerful hand he might have over another. Turning Albanand to a lesser degree, Bialiover to him while they were vulnerable was a last resort, something to be avoided if at all possible.

Margrit frowned toward the rooftop, knowing she was stalling, but not quite able to push herself forward yet. She wanted another answer to the problem at hand, but her heartbeats counted out passing moments in which Albans danger grew.

She wasnt certain which held her back: a reluctance to owe one of the Old Races yet another favor, or Eliseo Daisanis endless distressing failure to fit into any of the legends she knew. The other races were easier to deal with: lesser known, they also fell into old mythologies more readily, with the djinn ability to dissipate or the thin blue smoke that always followed Janx fitting what they really were.

But it was the gargoyles who were bound to night, not vampires. Daisani had been standing in an office full of sunlight the first time she met him, all swarthy smiles and a charisma that made his middling looks handsome. His teeth were unnervingly flat, no hint of too-long canines or a mouthful of razor-sharp ivory weapons. The dragon had pointy teeth, but the vampire, no. Neither garlic nor silver crosses held him off, nor did he require an invitation to pass a threshold. Alban had pointed out, prosaically, that Daisani would certainly die if someone thrust a wooden stake into his heart, but then again, so would anything else.

If shed not seen the impossible speed Daisani could move with, if shed not been given a gift of his blood to help her heal, she would never have believed he was anything other than what he appeared: a slight man with a great deal of personal wealth and business acumen. That, more than anything, made her not want to bargain with him.

Margrit tightened her hug, then let herself go forcefully, driving herself forward with the motion. As if shed summoned him with the action, a security guard approached her. Sorry, miss, but theres no loitering here. Youll have to move along.

Genuine astonishment rose up as laughter. Are you serious? This is a sightseeing stop. Oh, yeah, thats where Eliseo Daisani lives. Hes supposed to be worth forty billion now, you know? How do you get tourists to stop loitering?

The guard gave her a tight smile and gestured her away. Like this.

Margrit held her ground as the guard stepped into her personal space. Eliseos my boss. I need to see him. She tried sidestepping the guard and found herself caught in a dance with him.

Visibly exasperated, he stepped back, language turning formal, as though he repeated a well-rehearsed line. Im sure if Mr. Daisani is your employer, youll find a more appropriate opportunity to speak with him.

It struck Margrit that using Daisanis first namethough shed been invited toprobably put her in league with starstruck stalkers, not a properly subordinate employee. She grimaced, then stepped back with her hands lifted in acquiescence. The guard stood his ground until shed headed well down the block, only returning to his rounds after Margrit disappeared around a corner and peeked back. She counted to thirty, then, grateful he hadnt waited to see if shed return, put on a burst of speed and bolted back to face the doorman.

Wait, she said as he reached for his radio. I know I sound like a stalker, and I dont have an appointment, but my name is Margrit Knight. Im Mr. Daisanis new personal assistant, and this really is an emergency. Could you please ring up to his apartment and at least tell him Im here?

Miss, the doorman said more patiently than the guard had, its a quarter to seven in the morning. Even if

Is it that late? Margrit shot a look toward the horizon, cursing her lack of cell phone and therefore lack of timepiece. Never mind. Ill try to catch him at the office.

That wont be necessary, Miss Knight. Eliseo Daisani opened one of the lobbys glass doors himself, putting a stricken look on the doormans face. You may join me in the Town Car, if you wish. He gestured to the street, then fastidiously brushed a speck of lint off his overcoat. The coat, like everything Margrit had seen Daisani in, looked unbelievably expensive, the wool appearing so soft she had to stop herself from reaching out to touch it. Its cut added to his height; Daisani was taller than Margrit, but only just.

She shook off her fascination with his coat and glanced toward the car. Does it have privacy glass?

Daisanis eyebrows, then his voice, rose. Edward, could you have the limousine brought around, please? The driver, whod stood at attention beside the car, actually clicked his heels together in response before climbing in and driving away. Daisani smiled, then turned to the still-stricken doorman. Miss Knight is to be admitted at any time she desires. Dont look so pale, Diego. I hadnt left instructions. You werent to know. Margrit, will you require a ride home? I trust youre not going to work in that attire.

A ride home would be great. Margrit thinned her lips, staring between Daisani and the street. I think. I dont know if Im going to work.

For reasons pertaining to your arrival here this morning, I trust. Daisani nodded as a limousine pulled up, a different driver leaping out to hold the door. Bemused, Margrit preceded Daisani into the car, waiting until the doors and glass partition were closed before slumping in the leather seats. Daisani opened a miniature refrigerator and withdrew a bottle of water, eyebrows lifted in question.

Yes, please. Margrit sat up to accept and Daisani deftly poured two crystal glasses full, handing one to her and keeping the other for himself. The car pulled into traffic with a soft jolt of acceleration, then slowed again immediately. Good thing were not in a hurry. Itd be faster to walk.

One of the tribulations of city living. Now, tell me what brings you to my doorstep so early in the morning, Margrit.

I have a problem, and

Daisani chortled, then waved off her look of surprise. Forgive me. Its just that it was only a few weeks ago I said something very similar to you.

You said I had a prob Margrit broke off again, recognizing his point, and Daisanis smile broadened.

And you assured me it was I who had a problem, not you.

Margrit muttered, A lots changed since then, earning another delighted chuckle. She glowered out the tinted window, trying once more to think of someone else with the necessary resources to rescue two day-frozen gargoyles, and came up, again, with no other solution. I need help, she said to the windows, then transferred her gaze back to Daisani. But Im reluctant to tell you why until Ive already established Ill maintain control over the situation.

As opposed to?

You deciding you can get mileage out of it and using it to your own advantage.

Daisanis eyes half lidded in curiosity. Suggesting its a scenario from which I could benefit.

Maybe. Probably, Margrit amended. On the other hand, if its not dealt with immediately, its got the potential to be very bad for all of you. It behooves you to give me control.

And in exchange you will give me what, Margrit? Your employment with me begins Monday, so thats no longer an enticement you can bargain with. I doubt very much you intend to offer up the delectable Miss DuganAh. The last sound was one of smug laughter as Margrits heartbeat accelerated. She clamped down on the reaction, doing her best to inhale both deeply and discreetly. Daisani had admired Margrits housemate too many times already, and his choice of words reminded her that the man she sat with was not a man at all. Humanity lay as a veneer over a true form shed never seen. In the one rendering shed seen, vampires had been depicted as manlike, but Margrit doubted Daisanis other form was so familiar and reassuring.

My friends arent any part of this, Eliseo. The coldness in her own voice surprised her, its strength sounding as though she might somehow be able to prevent Daisani from dragging Cameron into the world Margrit had become a part of. Daisanis mouth quirked, recognition of and interest in Margrits implacability. Ill leave it an open-ended favor if I have to, but no way are you involving Cameron or Cole in any of this.

Who is responsible for Malik al-Massris death? Daisani spoke so abruptly Margrit sat back, fingers tightening around her water glass. I swore an oath, Margrit, that I would exact vengeance against anyone foolish enough to cross me when I had extended my protection to him, and I will fulfill that oath. Dont deny you were there. I have enough friends in the police department to know better. Tell me, Margrit. Tell me, and you will have your favor.

The water shed drunk turned to an icy leaden weight inside her belly. Sick with adrenaline, Margrit set her glass aside, fitting it carefully into a cup holder before folding her hands and leaning toward Daisani. Too aware she wrote her own fate with the words, she said, Help me rescue the gargoyles, and when theyre safe, Ill tell you what you want to know.


CHAPTER 1 | Hands of Flame | CHAPTER 3